The social aspects of death: what does it mean to die with dignity?

24 June 2011

Death is an uncomfortable but valuable area of research.
Death is an uncomfortable but valuable area of research.

The University of Sydney is welcoming academics and practitioners to the inaugural Death Down Under: Death Studies Conference, which will be held at the Sydney Law School on Monday 27 June and Tuesday 28 June.

Death, dying and bereavement are uncomfortable topics of conversation but valuable areas of research that deal with an inevitable part of life. Significant studies are being undertaken in the social aspects of death throughout Australia and New Zealand.

The Death Down Under conference takes place over two days and comprises more than 50 presentations under session headings including bereavement, memorialisation, ageing and dying, conversations with the dying, and a panel discussion entitled, "What does it mean to die with dignity?"

Dr Sheila Harper, conference convenor and research associate from the Faculty of Health Sciences, says informal links exist between geographically disparate pockets of research, but there is no cohesive network through which scholars and practitioners can work collaboratively.

"The aims of this conference are to promote the dissemination of social aspects of Death Studies research, and to facilitate the development of a cohesive Death Studies network in Australia, New Zealand and the wider Pacific region.

"Formal Death Studies networks currently exist in Europe and America, and have proven very successful, as demonstrated by the longevity of the Association of Death Education and Counselling in the United States and the recent establishment of the Association for the Study of Death and Society in the United Kingdom."

There will be two keynote addresses: Dr Helen McDonald from the University of Melbourne will deliver a presentation on historical changes in the use of human remains, and Professor Ngahuia Te Awekotuku from the University of Waikato, NZ, will present a paper entitled, Faraway Tears: Death in the Maori Diaspora.

Conference in brief

  • The Challenge of Talk: Researching the Experience of Emotion for People Using Palliative Health Care, Matra Robertson, University of Sydney
  • Bringing Our Dying Home: How Caring for Someone at End of Life Builds Social Capital and Develops Community, Debbie Horsfall, Kerrie Noonan and Rosemary Leonard, University of Western Sydney
  • An Analysis of Dominant Themes in First Person Bereavement Narratives, Heather Cameron, Barwon Health Palliative Care Program
  • The Funeral Director as Theatrical Supervisor and/or Travel Agent: A Review of Contemporary New Zealand Funeral Behaviour, Paul Voninski, State University of New York Oswego
  • Dead People Do Not Vote: The Battle to Upgrade the Brisbane City Morgue, Lee Butterworth, Griffith University
  • Talking to the Dead: Spirits, Ghosts, and Guides in Suburban Australia, Diana Carroll, University of South Australia

For a full list of presentations, visit the Death Down Under conference website.

Media enquiries: Katie Szittner, 9351 2261, 0478 316 809,